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Develop Conference Interview with RARE's Audio Team: Robin Beanland, Dave Wise and Steve Burke
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The Develop Conference & Expo, 29 - 31 July 2008, is where the European developer community comes together to learn from each other and share experiences, be inspired by world renowned experts and gurus, get up-to-date with the latest development tools and techniques, make new contacts and catch-up with old ones. Plus, celebrate innovation and achievement at the Develop Industry Excellence Awards.

With a comprehensive programme of seminars, sessions and workshops, the Develop Conference touches all levels of the development community. The seven-track conference programme will centre on four key themes including AUDIO, which reflect some of the major issues facing today's developers. The Audio Track takes place at the Hilton Brighton Metropole on Thursday, 31st July.

M4G recently caught up with RARE’s Audio Team: Robin Beanland (Head Of Music), Dave Wise & Steve Burke to preview their upcoming talk at the Develop Conference, “Welcome To Our World 2008 - A Rare Insight To Rare's Celebrated Audio Department's Inner Workings.”

Founded in 1985 and based in the United Kingdom, Rare Ltd. is one of the world’s leading video game developers and has masterminded some of the most popular video games in history, including multi-million-dollar sellers GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, Banjo-Kazooie and the Donkey Kong Country series. From 2005 to 2006, Rare released Conker Live & Reloaded, Perfect Dark ZeroKameo: Elements of Power and Viva Piñata for Xbox 360. Rare continues to entertain the world with the release of Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts and Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise later this year.

M4G: First of all please tell us about your audio background and how you got started working in the video games industry?
Robin Beanland: I was working freelance and writing music for TV as well as writing music for library companies KPM and Bosworth. In 1994 I saw a little ad in the back of Edge placed by a company in Twycross looking for musicians. I applied and got the gig…along with a young go getter called Graeme Norgate (Noz) who is now one of my bestest mates.

Dave Wise: When I was  growing up, my brother had piano lessons. But I had to wait until I was the same age as when my brother started, before I could start piano lessons. So at 6 years of age, I had to learn by ear. I decided to move to the trumpet in my early teens, playing in a Brass Band. Later, joining a Punk Rock band in my late teens, having taught myself drums. In my early twenties, I was demonstrating keyboards with some of my own tunes in a local music shop, when Tim & Chris Stamper dropped by. They didn’t want a keyboard, but offered me a job instead.

Steve Burke: I went to King's College London to study music, wanting to learn as much as I could about composition, playing the piano, conducting and orchestrating. I then went on to study for a Masters Degree in Composition at the Royal College of Music. This gave me a lot of opportunities to work with orchestras and scoring music for student films. After college I stayed on in London for a couple of years working as an assistant to film and tv composer, and in 2001 there was an advert in Edge magazine for an in-house audio job at Rare. The showreel I'd built up working with orchestras and on tv projects landed me the job at Rare.

M4G: Please describe each of your roles and responsibilities at RARE?
Robin Beanland: I look at the games we have in development and make a note of their audio needs and then assign audio resources accordingly. After that, I hopefully have time to write music for which ever game I’m working on.

Dave Wise: Acquiring audio assets e.g. recording of source material. Editing these and library sound effects for inclusion into our products. Writing music. And mixing these elements into the game.

Steve Burke: I write music ranging from synth music to full orchestral scores in whatever style is needed, produce recording sessions, create sound effects, make vocal sounds for hundreds of game characters, direct and edit voice over sessions, implement sounds in to the game (using tools such as XACT and WWise), go on the occasional field trip to record sounds, and like to be involved with the game team from the start of a project. I've also been on the judging panel as an audio specialist for Microsoft XNA competitions in England and Ireland.

M4G: RARE is well admired by the industry and VGM community for its eclectic and distinctive video game scores. How do you maintain a fresh creative approach?
Robin Beanland: I think a lot of it comes down to the quirky type of games we make. Once we start to see the concept art and graphics, it’s very hard not to become inspired and get the creative juices going.

Dave Wise: Going back to the Donkey Kong & Killer Instinct games. The ACM (advanced computer modelling) techniques were really pushing video games much farther than any other developer at that time. As musicians, we just couldn’t help but be incredibly inspired. So the inspiration really came from the drive of the Stamper Family, who would always inspire everyone on the team to produce material far more creatively than even we thought imaginable.

Steve Burke: My approach to music and sound effects is 'there are no rules'. I try to be innovative and involve the game designers closely with what I'm doing, and try to add some humor and quirkyness whenever I can. The thing I want to hear from a designer is "I wouldn't have thought of that, let's try it out".

M4G: Which are your favorite RARE soundtracks and why?
Robin Beanland: The next one ;) Was that answer a bit of a cop out?

Dave Wise: Regarding my own material: The Donkey Kong Country Soundtracks. Otherwise: the Killer Instinct soundtrack. A very good, strong, instantly recognisable melody that I can instantly recall. There’s not many soundtracks by any composer that you can throw that at. And Kameo. It was Rare’s first orchestral soundtrack – a great soundtrack and it was a real inspiration to see how the whole process worked.

Steve Burke: Dave Wise's Donkey Kong Country music, and Robin's orchestral tracks from the Banjo 3 recording sessions.

M4G: How do you divide the writing amongst yourselves?
Robin Beanland: We usually have one musician assigned to each game, but recently we found that we’re working together more and more as a team. A good example of that would be Banjo 3 where myself, Grant and Dave Clynick have written the music.

Steve Burke: I mostly stick with the teams I know well, and they give me a call whenever they start on something new. Otherwise, some projects may need additional help with music, sound design, or voice over recording, and we just muck in when help is needed. We all know how to use the development tools so we can work on any game when asked.

M4G: How has the relationship with Microsoft changed the culture of the company? Have RARE’s projects benefited in terms of access to greater resources (e.g. live orchestra budgets)?
Robin Beanland: Definitely, we’re now on our fourth score with the Prague Philharmonic, it all sounds fantastic and I don’t think we would have been able to achieve any of that without the big M.

Dave Wise: Under the Microsoft mantle, the budget for the live orchestra became possible as resources were prioritised differently.

Steve Burke: As far as I'm concerned, it's been a good thing, and the projects have benefited.

M4G: What do you think of the current state of game audio? What are some of the wider issues that still need to be addressed in terms of development, implementation and management?
Robin Beanland: It’s still a bit of a battle at times to have a dedicated software engineer just working on audio on the game side of things. We can create asset after asset and come up with new and inventive ways to try and get the music to interact, but none of that is any good unless you have someone to put it in and get it all working and more importantly keep it all working.

Dave Wise: Audio priority and importance. This varies throughout the industry. Some producers with vision can see the benefits of having great audio, whilst other games are let down badly by the lack of audio direction. As musicians and sound designers, we have a very strong passion for creating great audio. A personal thing we all share is that we want the material we produce to be the very best, and at the same time to be respected by our peers in the industry. This can only be achieved by having a strong team to work with who recognise the importance of audio in the production process. For example, programmers have to be given the responsibility of allowing time to implement audio properly. The reality is that as deadlines loom, audio priority may have to move down the list of priorities to make the deadline. In defence, Rare isn’t known for keeping to its deadlines, but this could have been in the pursuit of making the product the very best it could be.
From experience, I have seen games finished on time produce poor sales, whilst games that missed their deadline and being better for it, bring in good profits. I’ve also seen games take far too long to produce and have a negative impact on sales. There is always a balance.

Steve Burke: I like to hear catchy themes, so anything that sticks in my head and reminds me of the game is good. There's lots of very talented video game composers out there, and I think I can learn a lot from hearing how they've gone about implementing their music and using interactivity. It's a great time to be a video game composer. From an in-house point of view, implementation isn't a problem, as I'd just sit with a programmer and work with them to get the music and sound effects as I want. I still think that for sound design, creating the sounds is only half the job, the other half is good implementation and balancing the sounds in the context of the game.

M4G: Which game audio people do you admire?
Robin Beanland: I love what Mahito Yokota and Koji Kondo have done with the Super Mario Galaxy score, I was playing the game with my son a couple of weeks ago and there was a moment on one of the levels (one of the lava levels I think) where all the music and visuals came together in one great interactive feast…it gave me goose bumps.

Dave Wise: Tim Follin. Not sure what he’s doing now, but back in the days of the SNES, he was definitely one of my heroes.

Steve Burke: The other chaps in the audio department at Rare (Jamie Hughes, Martin Penny, Robin Beanland, Dave Wise, Dave Clynick, and Grant Kirkhope), Richard Jacques, Chris Tilton, and Rob Hubbard.

M4G: Who are your musical heroes and inspirations (outside of games)?
Robin Beanland: I tend to go for artists who try and do things a little differently and come up with a new sound but also evolve their sound too. People like Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, Danny Elfman to name a few.

Dave Wise:
Soundtracks of film composers: James Newton Howard, Hans Zimmer, Randy Newman, Vangelis. Music in general: Candy Dulfer, The Police, The Clash, Prince, Nickleback, Glenn Miller. Too many to mention – if it’s good, it doesn’t matter the genre. I listen to classical, jazz, rock, dance – really a bit of everything. Spectrasonics.

Steve Burke: Jerry Goldsmith and his many great film scores, Bach, Debussy, Ravel.

M4G: What are the benefits of being in-house composer(s)?
Robin Beanland: I think the main benefit is that we’re on a game right from the start, so can really embed our compositions and personas into the game world and create a signature score.

Dave Wise: Having audio in a game as soon as possible, always gave the impression that the game was coming together quickly. This would help drive the team forward. We found that a silent game, is a slow game. We also found that placing the wrong audio for sound effects as placeholders was a good way of inspiring the sound designer to quickly find the right sounds. Good audio takes time, and for me personally, the Donkey Kong Country 2 soundtrack took me a whole year to write and program. It would never have been achieved without being able to write in house.

Steve Burke: Variety of work. I can turn up to work and in the same day be composing music for two different games, creating voices for game characters, in meetings with the development team, implementing sounds in to the game, and many other responsibilities. Also, the security of a salaried job is very important, as is working with people I have known for years and enjoy working with. The Rare HQ really is very nice, and at lunch times a few of us go for walks for around 45 minutes in the Rare grounds. It's very quiet in the countryside, and is perfect for focusing on the creative task of creating audio for games.

Why did Grant Kirkhope recently leave RARE?
Robin Beanland: Grant left because he wants to take on more responsibility and has always had a hankering for living in the US. He’s going to head up the audio team for Big Huge Games and he’ll be greatly missed.

But it’s not all bad news, just before he went he gave me his coffee machine. He’s also given me the keys to his house so that I can keep a check on it for him, and I’m already eyeing up the rather nice fridge freezer in his utility room.

Dave Wise: He wanted to explore other possibilities and extend his horizons. “We’re here for a good time, not a long time” as he used to say, so he’s gone to find new challenges elsewhere.

M4G: Will the scores for Viva Pinata: Trouble In Paradise and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts be released as standalone commercial soundtracks like Kameo and PDZ?
Robin Beanland: You never know, if there’s enough demand I’m sure it’ll be a possibility.

M4G: What is currently playing on your iPod, Zune or CD player?
Robin Beanland: Besides checking the mixes for Banjo 3, I’m currently listening to a fantastic band called Frost*. Frost* is the brainchild of an incredibly talented musician called Jem Godfrey. Jem defines what I look for when trying to discover new music, he’s created a new sound whilst writing melodically strong tunes. But he’s constantly trying to evolve his sound…I like that. I’m also listening to a lot of Imogen Heap’s music. Again, I think Imogen is an incredible talent and wondrously creative… I can’t wait to hear her new album.

Dave Wise: Nickleback – All The Right Reasons, Photograph, Savin’ Me, Far Away.

Steve Burke: I'm listening to Coldplay – Viva la Vida.

M4G: Finally, what are you most looking forward to during the Develop conference?
Robin Beanland: A fish supper at Riddle & Finns…yum. Oh, and the audio track of course…ahem.

Dave Wise: Meeting Geneviève Laberge & Simon Ashby from Wwise, along with some of our peers in the industry.

Steve Burke: Hopefully meet other people who create audio for games, and learn some new things from the Audio Tracks. Making the most of having a few days break before heading back to Rare to create more character voices for Banjo 3. Relax, have fun, and eat chips on the beach.

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